Lady of Guadalupe
and the Immaculate Conception
Peter Damian Fehlner, F.I., a member of the Franciscans of the Immaculate,
is an internationally known lecturer on Marian doctrine who has appeared
on EWTN and is past editor of the international Marian magazine founded by
St. Maximilian Kolbe, Miles Immaculatae. This article first appeared in
the publication A Handbook on Guadalupe, Academy of the Immaculate,
on December 2, 2011 by Fr.
Peter Damian Fehlner
there a link between Guadalupe and the Immaculate Conception? From the
time of the apparition and first glimpse of the Miraculous Image on the
tilma of Bl. Juan Diego, Catholics, Spaniards and Indian, American and
European, have always believed there is a relation between Mary Immaculate
toward the end of the “age of enlightenment,” the eighteenth century,
voices increasingly more strident have denied any such connection.
Clearly, these “voices” are often identical with those who doubt or
deny the historicity and/or supernatural nature of the apparitions. The
arguments they use and the conclusions they reach exactly parallel those
of modernists who claim one can deny the historicity of the infancy
narratives, but still believe as a Catholic in the “symbolic” value of
Marian dogmas such as the divine motherhood and perpetual virginity.
so frequently happens, those attacking the truths of Faith unwittingly
draw the attention of believers to the importance of facts easily
discovered, yet commonly overlooked, which justify the traditional belief.
In this case it is the role played by the Franciscans who assured that the
link, intended by Our Lady, would be seen. That link has been explained
over the centuries to rest upon the Franciscan influence in Spain and the
the first two hundred years after the apparition, belief in a link between
Guadalupe and the Immaculate Conception usually is evident in discussions
of the “Woman clothed with the sun” (Apoc. 12,1 ff) plainly recalled
by the Miraculous Figure of the Mother of God on the tilma. By 1531 it was
commonplace among Catholics to identify the Woman of the Apocalypse the
Woman who crushes the head of the serpent (Gen. 3,15), with the Mother of
God, Coredemptrix and Queen, under the title of Immaculate Conception.
popular awareness of that identity and of its significance is the result
of the role played by the Franciscan Order. It was the Franciscan
theologian, Bl. John Duns Scotus (1266?-1308), who worked out the classic
theology of the Immaculate Conception. Since then, Franciscan preachers
and missionaries, guided by his profound insights, effectively contributed
to the acceptance of his “thesis” throughout the Church. A good
example of this kind of “borrowing Franciscan insights” without
mentioning the Franciscans, is to be found in the writings of the Mexican
Miguel Sanchez (1594-1674). As long as one is aware of and accepts the
assumptions of the Franciscan “thesis” about the Immaculate, then the
reference to the text of the Apocalypse mirrored on the tilma clearly
says: She is the Immaculate Woman.
recently, defenders of the tradition have brought forward arguments based
on the words which our Lady used to identify herself to Juan Bernardino.
Thus, Helen Behrens popularized the view that in identifying herself Our
Lady used, not the Spanish name Guadalupe, but a word in Nahuatl: Coatlaxopeuh,
i.e., I am the one who has crushed the head of the serpent (who demands
human sacrifice). To Spanish ears that word spoken by Juan Bernardino
would have sounded like Guadalupe; whence the link with the Spanish
shrine and the popular name of the Mexican shrine.
the meaning assigned Coatlaxopeuh in this thesis (crushing the head
of the serpent) has come under considerable fire from students of Nahuatl
and of Aztec culture. The sometimes heated exchanges, concentrating on
what is a secondary point in regard to our theme, distract from the
essential contribution of Helen Behrens. She called the attention of the
English speaking public to some true facts.
Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico really is the Immaculate, the “Perfect
Virgin” of the Nican Mopohua. In bringing about the conversion of
nations to Jesus she does in some real sense crush the head of the enemy
of the Savior and our salvation, whatever form this opposition takes. She,
the Mother of mercy, because she is the Immaculate, intervenes in history
to secure the conversion, sanctification and salvation of all peoples.
Coatlaxopeuh, the word used by Juan Bernardino, whatever it means
in Nahuatl when pronounced does sound like Guadalupe in Spanish!
But to say that the link between Guadalupe and the Immaculate is based
only on the misunderstanding of the word Guadalupe is a capital error.
This fails to take into account the role played by the Franciscans at both
the end of the fifteenth century the Franciscans had placed in the shrine
of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Extramadura a statue of the Immaculate
Conception, one which soon became a popular object of veneration. There is
also good evidence that the same statue had already been made known by the
Franciscan missionaries in Mexico to the Indians and that perhaps a
reproduction was already venerated in the vicinity of Tepeyac.
the similarity between the depiction of the Immaculate in the statue
placed by the Friars Minor in the sanctuary of Extramadura and the Image
on the tilma is extraordinarily close, so close that anyone from the
region of Extramadura, like the Spanish translator in the Bishop’s
palace, hearing what sounded like Guadalupe, would have spontaneously
associated this Image with the Immaculate Conception statue in Spain.
the Franciscan tradition the Immaculate is Our Lady, Queen of the Angels,
whose Portiuncula (Little Portion) was the chapel where Angels were
often seen to descend and ascend, waiting on their Queen and her clients,
“the rest of her offspring,” i.e., the rest of the Savior’s brethren
(cf. Apoc. 12:17). This is the place where St. Francis came to understand
his vocation, found his Order and where he died.
therefore, the good Bishop beheld the roses spilling on the floor, it was
not only a sign that he could believe Juan Diego, but an answer to his own
prayer for a sign assuring the success of the evangelization and the
pacification of the two peoples. When he saw the image of Our Lady
supported by an angel at her feet on the tilma, he could not help but
recognize the Franciscan mode of conceiving the Immaculate as Queen of the
Angels. The link between Guadalupe in Mexico, Guadalupe in Spain and the
Immaculate Conception was fixed. The core of the Perfect Virgin’s
message at every authenticated appearance since, because she is the
Immaculate, rests upon her maternal mediation as Dispenstrix of God’s
mercy and grace. It is she upon whom the Angels wait, the Angels venerated
at both Guadalupe shrines.
association between Guadalupe in Mexico and the Immaculate Conception was
perceived immediately, not only in Mexico, but in Europe as well. More and
more as the Miracle came to be known representations of the Immaculate
Conception reflected the likeness on Bl. Juan Diego’s tilma. With the
decisive victory of the Christian fleet over the more powerful Moslems at
Lepanto, lifting the threat of the infidels over the whole of Europe,
through a copy of the Icon, the Immaculate Conception came to occupy
center stage in the Catholic counter-reformation. She is the
Auxiliatrix Christianorum—Help of Christians.
therefore, is what the tradition uniformly assumed. To get around the
obvious, skeptics interpreted references to the Woman of Apocalypse, such
as those of Miguel Sanchez, the seventeenth century commentator, as
inspired by criollo patriotism, rather than as they always have
been understood: testimonials to the common belief in the Immaculate
Conception reflected by the Image on the tilma. There is no indication
that Sanchez or Bl. Juan Diego or our Lady anticipate a liberation
theology interpretation of the Magnificat. The proof is all to the
role of Franciscan piety in the origins of Guadalupe is understandable in
the context of the Franciscan influence in Spain and Mexico, an influence
explicitly and almost aggressively “Immaculatist.” At the time of the
apparitions the Franciscan Order was popularly known as the one which
“preached the Immaculate Conception.” Our Lady appearing at Tepeyac
made use of Franciscans and their long tradition of devotion to the
Immaculate, first of all in the person of Bishop Zumárraga, who openly
supported the building of the first church at the site which she
Franciscan spirituality, plus the urgency of the times, inspired and
impelled Christopher Columbus, a Third Order Franciscan, in his
expeditions. He was quite familiar with the Apocalypse, in particular
chapter 12, with its account of the opening of the Ark of the Covenant in
heaven and the appearance of the Woman clothed with the sun, who literally
is the Ark. This is the same biblical reference which played so central a
role in the iconography of the tilma. There Our Lady blots out the sun,
indicating she is greater than the sun god whom the Aztecs worshiped. She
has the moon beneath her feet and stars on her robe which places her above
and beyond mere terrestrial creation.
is not an explanation of the Immaculate Conception as such. Rather it is a
heavenly confirmation of the basis for her universal maternal mediation as
the Immaculate One, and so provides the key to the understanding of the
successful evangelization of Mexico and of all people and nations. It is
no accident that in every authentic appearance of our Lady since 1531, in
some way these two themes, Immaculate Conception and Marian mediation, are
involved. In a word, the appearance of the Perfect Virgin declares
the wonders of divine grace and glory over a world darkened by sin, the
degradation of false worship involving human sacrifice, and the
enslavement of neighbor through unjust amassment of riches.
today vast numbers of souls are enslaved by the idolatry of sensual
pleasure. Instead of worshiping the Child of the Virgin as Our Lady of
Guadalupe asked, they sacrifice their offspring and their fecundity to the
demands of lust and greed. How needed it is to look upon and listen to the
Mother of Tepeyac, the Mother of Life and heed her requests to build a
temple for the Holy Spirit in their souls in imitation of the Immaculate
Virgin’s purity, modesty and chastity.
then, is no mere symbolic myth as one prestigious anti-apparitionist
claims and this book refutes. Guadalupe is above all a person, the Perfect
Virgin, our Mother of mercy, a model to be imitated, and a living
Mother who anticipates our needs as when she intervenes in our history for
the sake of our salvation and for the sake of our welfare as pilgrims in
this world. As a Mother to all she deliberately spoke in a way that both
nations, Indian and Spanish, would understand the same mystery at
Extramadura and at Tepeyac—the Immaculate Virgin in her unique role as
Mother of all men.
airing questions of inculturation, politics, economics, etc., there is
need for unity of Faith in her Son. This is possible only when she is
humbly acknowledged to be the Mother of God, as in Mexico, by both nations
through the erection of a temple in her honor. Where this is not
recognized, there will be constant conflict and revolution. The genius of
Catholicism, of Catholic political philosophy and culture, is the Perfect
your Mother” Jesus
says to St. John (Jn 19:26). To all his “beloved disciples” could He
not also be saying before the tilma of Bl. Juan Diego: Behold the Woman of
Revelation, the Immaculate? The more we grasp and live this mystery, the
foundation of the Virgin’s compassionate and motherly mediation, the
greater our understanding of the person and work of her Son and Savior,
and our sharing in His life. Blessed, indeed, those who behold their
Immaculate Mother and, as the Son asks, take her into their homes by true
devotion to Mary, by total consecration to the Immaculate.